What started out as a popular uprising twelve years ago has become a full-blown proxy/civil war in Syria. The uprising that was meant to topple the dictatorship and one-party state of President Bashir al-Assad has become a full-blown civil war with regional and world powers supporting different sides. Iran and Russia support the Assad Regime while the United States, Türkiye and their North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) support the “rebels”. On the ground the civil war has become even more complex with splintering disagreements between Ankara and Washington over military and financial aid to the Kurdish militant groups the PKK and the YPG.1
The armed groups based in Syria and fighting the regime in Damascus is accused by Türkiye, of being terrorists and having separatist tendencies for Syria’s north east which threatens the Turkish state’s own sovereignty.2 The PKK has long to establish an independent homeland for the Turks in the Country’s South West region.3 Hundreds of Syrian Arabs have been forced to find refuge elsewhere.4 Since August 27, the PKK and its Syrian offshoot, the YPG, have been using heavy artillery to target artillery to target Arabs living in eastern and south eastern districts of Deir el-Zour, territory it seized with the support of the United States, according to local sources.5 Now it has been said that in early years of the country’s conflict, chief officials in the regime established and directed paramilitary groups known as shabbiha to assist them (the Assad Regime) in cracking down on opponents, war crimes investigators have documented.6
In a report shared with Reuters, the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) published seven documents its investigators said showed that the highest levels of Syria’s government “planned, organised, instigated and deployed” the shabbiha from the start of the war in 2011. U.N. investigators in 2012 concluded there were reasonable grounds to believe shabbiha militias committed crimes against humanity, including murder and torture, and war crimes such as arbitrary arrest and detention, sexual violence and pillaging. CIJA’s cache does not contain direct written orders to commit atrocities. The Syrian government did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
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It has previously blamed opposition fighters for several mass killings studied by CIJA in the report. The government has not publicly commented on the shabbiha, which means ghosts in Arabic, or whether it had any role in organising the groups. Dating from as early as January 2011 – the first days of the protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule – the documents detail the creation of so-called Popular Committees, groups that incorporated regime supporters already known as shabbiha into the security apparatus, and trained, instructed and armed them, the report said. The documents include instructions on March 2, 2011 from military intelligence to local authorities via Security Committees run by Assad’s Baath party leaders to “mobilise” informers, grassroots organisations and so-called friends of the Assad government. In further documents in April they are ordered to form them into Popular Committees. (Exclusive: Syrian regime organized feared ghost militias, war crimes researchers say)
The methods by the Assad regime to keep it in power can be described as nefarious. They have sort to undermine any form of dissent or mass demonstration to discuss any transition to democracy. A regime with such a mind set is very frightening. The purpose of these shabbiha militias is to intimidate and repress the views of the public. This gives legitimacy to the regime’s views that the people of Syria can’t do without their iron grip on power. The Syrian government had no interest in setting up a system of accountability and transparency. The ordinary Syrians are trapped in a complicated and sadistic game of being stuck between a rock and a hard place. If they flee Syria they risk a dangerous journey to Europe on which they may lose their lives or if they stay they suffer at the hands of an ambiguous dictatorship or the militant groups of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al Qaeda.
The purpose of groups like the CIJA are to speak truth to power and hold the powerful to account. They are the reason why when uncovering the truth about who is guilty of war crimes in a conflict zone like Syria or Ukraine then ensure sanctions remained in place. If the “ghost” or shabbiha militias are indeed having their strings pulled by Damascus then they should be called to account. (the documents mentioned in the extract say so) However, there is no independent judicial authority or commission in Syria to hold Assad and his ilk responsible. It is up to international bodies such as the CIJA to call on the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the International War Crimes Tribunal – both in the Hague to charge the members of the Syrian regime. Its only a matter of time.